One advantage of a public breeding program for cotton is the diverse germplasm available to screen for a variety of traits that may increase the pest resistance spectrum, drought and other stress tolerance and options that fit specific growing conditions.

“But we also want to make certain we develop cultivars that can compete with commercial varieties in yield and fiber quality,” says Steve Hague, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research cotton breeder at College Station.

“Ideally, we would develop something that private industry would pick up. We are not in the cottonseed marketing business.”

Hague says private cottonseed companies develop and market excellent varieties that are “incredibly productive. But if we want to keep pushing yield and quality, we need public breeding, too.”

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Hague looks for traits that fit a special geography. He says a different spectrum of insect pests may be of more concern to East, South and Central Texas than what farmers typically face in West Texas. Fleahoppers and whiteflies, for instance, have been troublesome in recent years.

“I don’t know how much effort private cottonseed companies are putting into developing fleahopper resistance since it is a regional pest.

“We plant earlier here than they do in the Plains. The Texas High Plains makes a lot of cotton in September and October; we are typically out of the field by then. So just the day length differences alone can cause unique physiological reactions.”